Since 2017, Bianca Torunsky and Daniel McCallum ‘16 have been caregivers for Bianca’s 91-year-old grandfather, affectionately known as Opa, following the loss of his wife of 60 years. The couple’s caregiving duties expanded further after Opa was involved in a car accident, which worsened his hearing and mobility impairments.
The caregiving role has become a fundamental part of the lives of the two Trent Psychology students, both belonging to Catharine Parr Traill College. In particular, their first-hand experiences with caregiving have remarkably enhanced their academic studies and the value of experiential learning, and vice versa.
Eye-opening courses with at-home impact
Bianca, a fourth-year Psychology student, took the course Psychology of Aging, which she says gave her unique and valuable insights into caregiving.
"I was able to incorporate a lot of what I've learned from taking care of Opa into the course,” said Bianca. “I gained valuable knowledge about aging that I've been able to use to support and care for Opa better."
Daniel, now a Master of Science in Psychology student, also took the Psychology of Aging course, saying it was what first opened his eyes to the realities of their situation with Opa and the opportunities that were still available. Daniel also incorporated their personal caregiving experiences with Opa into his academic work when he interviewed Bianca extensively for a graduate Qualitative Research Methods in Psychology (PSYC 4120H/5120H) course as part of his master’s.
"The results of the assignment were honestly eye-opening for both of us,” said Daniel. “These academic experiences at Trent provided invaluable insights that directly influenced how I care for Opa.”
Director for the Trent Centre for Aging and Society (TCAS) Dr. Elizabeth Russell supervised the experiential learning projects embedded within her qualitative research and Psychology of Aging courses. She commends Bianca and Daniel for their exceptional dedication and innovative approach.
"Bianca and Daniel's projects are wonderful examples of how experiential learning allows students to put their own personal twist on course material. They have engaged with course concepts in a more difficult and insightful way, showcasing the power of combining personal experiences with academic work,” said Professor Russell.
Turning personal experience into professional experience
At Trent, Bianca also had the opportunity to expand her knowledge and experience through a placement at Ontario Shores’ geriatric unit. Now equipped with that work experience, new skills, and two bachelor's degrees in psychology and criminology, Bianca is pursuing a few career avenues.
“As I navigate my future, I am figuring out whether my focus will be hands-on, face-to-face interaction with individuals or the research and policy side. Ideally, I would like a combination of both. What truly matters to me is making a positive impact on the people in my community," she said.
For Daniel, he envisions a future where he can share his knowledge and passion as a post-secondary level instructor, after he successfully defends his master's thesis.
"Teaching has been an incredibly fulfilling experience for me. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to serve as a co-instructor for a second-year neuroscience course in the Psychology department. Additionally, I took on roles as a lab demonstrator and workshop leader for two courses in the Trent-Fleming School of Nursing (TFSON),” Daniel shared. “With my master's degree and the teaching experience I've gained, I aspire to secure a full-time faculty position in a college psychology department."
Daniel expressed deep gratitude for the diverse opportunities he had at Trent University.
"I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have chosen Trent. I joined research labs, worked on statistical projects, and even took advanced poetry courses. Attending Trent has exceeded my expectations, and I am truly grateful for the immense benefits it has brought into my life."